Evidence from Torture Can't Be Used in Court, Say Law Lords

Article excerpt

Byline: JASON BEATTIE

TERRORIST suspects could walk free after Law Lords ruled that evidence obtained from torture could not be used in British courts.

The landmark judgment will force Home Secretary Charles Clarke to review a string of cases which relied on evidence gained from US detention camps.

The Law Lords overruled an Appeal Court decision that there was no obligation on the Government to inquire about the origins of evidence passed from a foreign state.

The case was brought by human rights groups on behalf of eight terrorist suspects detained after the September 11 attacks in the US in 2001.

Information possibly obtained by torture had been used by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) to sanction the terrorists' continued detention.

But Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the former Lord Chief Justice, who headed the panel of seven Law Lords, said English law had regarded "torture and its fruits" with abhorrence for more than 500 years.

"I am startled, even a little dismayed, at the suggestion - and the acceptance by the Court of Appeal majority - that this deeply rooted tradition and an international obligation solemnly and explicitly undertaken can be overridden by a statute and a procedural rule which make no mention of torture at all," he said.

The Law Lords said SIAC must now investigate whether evidence was obtained by torture.

The Government must reveal where and how it obtained the evidence against the suspects, or find other evidence to justify their detention.

Lord Bingham went on: "The principles of the common law, standing alone, in my opinion compel the exclusion of thirdparty torture evidence as unreliable, unfair, offensive to ordinary standards of humanity and decency and incompatible with the principles which should animate a tribunal seeking to administer justice. …